Examples: Strange Smells & Ringin’ Bells

Here’s one of my telltales: Lothar, a 19th-century British inkwell. Eat yer hearts out—he’s mine!

Back when I was a cop I busted a graduate of the Folsom Prison charm school. Released on parole on a technicality, he briefly dabbled in his old pastime of armed robbery, and then went into large-scale high-end fencing of stolen goods. He rented a half-dozen homes in nice middle-class neighborhoods, made them look occupied, and filled them with stolen property. After I wrapped him up on his “3rd strike,” he voluntarily took me on a tour of those homes. He wasn’t getting a plea deal or brownie points out of it. He said some of his stored items were obviously cherished family heirlooms, and if he couldn’t profit from them ’cause he was goin’ back inside, he’d rather they were returned to their owners than profit other crooks. Go figure, huh?

At each residence I noted he would go to a window and glance inside before unlocking the door. At one place he eyeballed the front, then went through a breezeway to the side, where he peeped into the kitchen, tried the doorknob, then satisfied, came around to peep through a front window, then unlock the front door.

He was checking his “telltales” before entering. Here’s how that works: Select a point inside which is not easily visible from outside, but visible from at least one small space or angle through one window; like, when peering through a slightly bent venetian blind at the lower left corner of a window. There you place a Mason jar, a sterling dish, a decorative Chinese bowl, something—and put some change, several rumpled dollar bills with a $10 or $20 on top. Or, you can place one where it’s visible as soon as you open the door.

It was an “entry check”; in some ways more reliable than checking for forced entry. As he explained, whether the intruder is a garden-variety opportunist, a hard-core crook, or a “business competitor” waiting to kill you, none can resist grabbing obvious cash—and if someone entered, they may still be inside. If he saw his telltale disturbed he would step back to his truck, retrieve a gun, and if anything smelled particularly wrong he’d call for a backup, just as a cop might.

At the place where he checked the side door, that was because first, he had a secondary telltale inside there, and second, it was the only other way out, and that door had a double-cylinder deadbolt lock because there was a glass pane in the door. If someone were inside, they couldn’t flee through that door.

“If someone like me is caught inside,” he said, “My only escape would be right through whoever opens the front door. I’d kill you if I had to.” I’ve been using telltales ever since.

Wait, Look, Sniff and Sense

People are finally getting smart about responding to a knock on the door and having home invaders come crashing in. So, crooks are reviving the old “bump-and-tumble.” The phrase originally meant a maneuver used by two cops when taking down a possibly armed and dangerous suspect. After hearing arresting officers call it that, crooks began using it to describe when they would approach a victim from the rear as they were opening their front doors. During that vulnerable few seconds when the door is open and the victim’s entering, they slam you from the back, knockin’ you inside and then closing the door behind them. Bingo, easy victim.

The defense isn’t tough, but beyond most people. As you approach your door, you just have to look around and see if you have company within striking distance—and have a real appreciation for how fast thugs can move. Especially if you have loved ones inside, you don’t open that door while the danger exists. Better to deal with it outside. Hopefully you’re equipped to shoot, scream or scram, depending.

Now for the other side of the coin: Once you have the door open, unless you’re being greeted by friendly Fido and happy family, don’t step right in. Take a sharp look inside for anything out of place. Sniff the air. A faint tobacco scent, but you don’t smoke? Body odor that’s not yours? Crank up your senses. You know how sometimes you can sense that someone—usually repair people, landlord, whatever—have been in your place, and you can’t articulate how you knew that? Senses and instincts ain’t the exclusive purview of animals.

A single lady who had just taken one of my Uncle John’s “Living Safe” seminars arrived home, opened her door, and did that “pause and sense” number. She could sense something wasn’t right. She stood there for several seconds—and a guy’s head came peepin’ out of a hall doorway. She spun around and made like a mobile air raid siren.

The guy had been stalking her, studying her movements and schedule. He had broken into the back and was waiting to hear her open and close the door and come down the hall. When he didn’t hear the front door close, he couldn’t help peeping out. Lots of crooks are devious and cunning, but not smart. A convicted rapist already, he was caught and identified in two recent similar rapes in the area. Enough said?

Standard Operating Procedures

I couldn’t count the number of cases I pulled where people were killed or grievously injured because either they didn’t look and see what they were walking into, or they denied their instincts screamin’ that they should exit a bad situation before it blew up.

Off duty, a police sergeant who should have known better walked his family into a nice glass-fronted restaurant where a trio of gangsters was holding the place up. As he followed his wife and kids in, the ’bangers started wildly shooting. He barely got ’em back outside and out of the line of fire. Two innocents were killed and two wounded. If he had looked into the place he could have easily seen what was happening.

Back when our kids were munchkin-sized, my wife pulled up in front of a convenience store and thankfully, in her peripheral vision, saw a cop at the corner of the building frantically waving her away. She peered inside and bang!, there were two masked, armed thugs holding people at gunpoint. She backed out slowly—and never again approached any place without giving it the Hairy Red Mark-III Eyeball.

An acquaintance of mine exited the front of his business late one night, pausing outside the still-closing auto-locking door to light a smoke. Only a few days before we had talked about the value of doing a recon of any and all areas before walking into them. He made a sweeping gaze. From the opposite ends of the front parking row of about 40 slots left to right, two guys began casually sauntering toward the center, where his car was parked. He noted they were wearing identical black hooded Oakland Raiders jackets. Bells rang in his head.

He caught the door and hustled inside. The goons instantly sprinted for him, pulling pistols and screaming. Too late, scumbags. Close, but no cigars, boys.

If one tip saves one of you one moment of grief, I’ve done my job, woof-woof.

Connor OUT